The legend of the skunk monkey is beyond the imagination.
From the earliest recorded human migration patterns, mysterious cryptids, creatures whose existence is claimed but unfounded, have found their way through folklore, fables, and cautionary stories around the world. Lately the fascination with cryptids has been revived. Dozens of online discussion forums have sprung up, and Hulu recently produced a documentary about Sasquatch. Better known as Bigfoot, its myth originated among indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest. Interestingly, while the existence of cryptids like Bigfoot may be the subject of debate, some cultures recognize the same creatures by different names. A hike in Florida’s Everglades, for example, can evoke a whisper from Bigfoot’s swampy cousin, the Skunk Ape.
It was 1973 when David Shealy, then 10, and his brother saw the ape-like figure slowly make its way through the grasslands into the thick swamp of Big Cypress Preserve. “My brother gave me a push to see him over the grass,” Shealy recalled. “That was my first sighting.”
Shealy, a cross-generational “true Floridian,” has carefully researched the Skunk Ape for decades. His work and business has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, and Animal Planet. He lives on land believed to be ideal for the creature: 3 million acres of the largest sanctuary east of the Mississippi.
This skunk monkey sighting in the 1970s was not his last. In July 8, 2000 VHS footage uploaded to YouTube by Smithsonian Magazine, Shealy captured a tall, dark-haired, silhouetted figure strolling through waist-deep water and sawgrass. The figure notices that Shealy is watching him and flees with a man’s walk and flight. In the comment area, viewers share different views on the validity of the video, from “his movements are too humanoid” to “no one in a costume could walk through the swamp that fast!”. One comment even mentions a 2002 sighting in Jacksonville, which begs the question, what is the likelihood of encountering one?
A sighting by another witness shows the long-haired, bearded creature known as the Myakka Skunk Ape staring at him as he photographs her behind a group of palmettos.
“These things were discovered all over Florida,” Shealy confirmed. They also filter through Mississippi and Alabama, but take on different characteristics. “
The Skunk Ape has mainly been described as being between 5 feet 5 inches to 6 feet tall with a matted or slightly frizzy coat. The fur is most commonly described as cinnamon brown, but other witnesses recalled that it was dark brown or even black. They are often described as loners, and Shealy believes there are only about five to six of them walking around. “They are very lonely animals and I have no idea how long they live,” he said.
The sightings of the skunk monkey can be traced back to pre-colonial Florida, where bands of the Seminole tribe pass on the legend of “Esti Capcaki”, which translates as “big man” or “cannibal giant”. There have also been claims that the skunk monkey pursues fishermen and hikers and views them as prey. Most close-range sightings agree that the sharp primate has the smell of rotting food or a wet dog, which sets it apart from the closely related Bigfoot.
Shealy noted that there are other differences from its more well-known relative. “The difference I found from my research is that the Skunk Ape has four toes and the Bigfoot has five toes. The Skunk Ape is also lighter in weight, which probably has to do with the fact that it lives in a hotter climate so it doesn’t have to hold a heavy body weight. “Bigfoot also made a big mark on Shealy to share his study and the results of the Skunk Ape with other cryptic researchers. “It took me years to convince the Bigfoot community that these exist,” he said, “but now they recognize the Skunk Ape as a subspecies.”
The Skunk Ape has been compared to other modern primates in terms of its habits and traits. Researchers studying orangutans have visited the Everglades for the past decade to study skunk monkey sightings: are these the great apes that actually watch humans?
“I can admit they have some similarities: You [both] Climb trees, make beds in trees, ”Shealy said. “Earth beds are out of the question. [The Skunk Ape is] similar to orangutans … but I know it is not an orangutan. “
Although Shealy recently retired from his Skunk Ape research, his work lives on and he’s excited to share his findings with curious tourists and cryptic enthusiasts. To kick off this retirement, On the Track of the Skunk Ape, a comprehensive collection of his experiences and research, will be released on Amazon over Memorial Day weekend.
In the meantime, he’s working hard to address environmental issues and keep natural old Florida alive in the reserve. He also runs a Skunk Ape museum, campgrounds, and Everglades boat tours with guides who live on the premises. “The headquarters of Skunk Ape Research is a diverse business and Bigfoot research center. We have different types of cabins … a gift shop with Skunk Ape Merch and Pole Boat tours – this is our signature tour. “
But the Skunk Ape isn’t the only wildlife worth watching. Also on the premises is a whopping 24 foot long, 300 pound reticulated python that Shealy affectionately called Goldie. It is one of the largest captive snakes in the world. Shealy said he is waiting for Guinness World Records to visit the property and possibly verify it as the largest.
As the summer sun rises and sets over the grassy meadow and thick swamp, the legend and lore of the skunk monkey continue to cast shadows over the Everglades. Despite decades of research, increased sightings, and growing public interest, Shealy wants one thing to be known: “The Skunk Ape type is way more than what you see in print.”